I see people with baseball caps
“Let’s make America great again.”
and others’ that say
“America already is great”
and I think to myself
it is going to be
a long hot summer
with lots of shouting
and little listening.
What is this greatness they speak of?
Is it the greatness of the city on a hill
in which white European men
pursue their manifest destiny
across the country
at the expense of natives,
and the environment?
Is the greatness
in the resources of this land,
the beauty of the landscape,
and in compassion
for those in need,
no matter what they think,
where they’re from,
or what look like?
What should I write
during the coming months?
“Yes it is! … No it’s not!”?
Somehow that doesn’t seem very productive.
Show, don’t tell.
by writing about a flower budding,
a river flowing,
or an unexpected smile
on a summer afternoon
I can do my part
for the greatness of this country.
One of the themes of the 2016 Trinity Institute conference, Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice was the idea of Counter Narrative. It is an idea that people talk about, in certain circles, but perhaps do not do enough to foster. There is the official narrative, the stories we learn in school or read in the mainstream media; the stories of America as uninhabited or inhabited by barbarians, when Westerners came, the stories of Westerners being welcomed at a great first Thanksgiving meal, the stories of southern plantation life which overlooks the suffering of slaves, the stories of a city on a hill and manifest destiny. A good way to understand the problems of this is by listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story.
The dominant narrative of the day seems to be one of consumerism, where what matters is getting whatever you can for yourself, and the rest be damned. It is a narrative based on fear; sending troops and building bigger walls. It is a narrative where all people are not created equal, let alone created in the image of God Some of seen as more or less deserving than others, perhaps because of their skin color, the location they were born, or how wealthy their family was when they were born.
I thought of this when I listened to a book on tape by Barbara Kingsolver where she said that $100 is spent every year for every person on the planet, trying to get them to buy more stuff. Friday, I heard Dr. Gail C. Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg foundation say, at a forum on health equity and access, talking about what you see on television and movies, “We are entertained these days by the destruction of life".
The master narrative is about consumerism and inequality, it is about the loss of creativity and spirituality. People talk about counter narratives at conferences. Perhaps they tell some of the other sides of the story, like those talking about the Middle Passage are doing. Maybe they are telling some women’s history, talking about the domestic arts with as much respect as has been shown to the “fine” arts, or highlighting great black and/or women artists and scientists.
Yet what about countering the master narrative in daily life? Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I set for myself a goal to write a poem a day during the month. When I’ve done this in the past, there have been days that I could find nothing to say, and wrote pieces that weren’t all that great, that were throw aways, just practice pieces. This month I did a little better. I didn’t always get the poem for each day posted on the day I wrote it. Sometimes, I’d let it sit for a day or two before editing and posting, but I did get my thirty poems done. I’ll probably edit my last poem of the month and post it tomorrow.
I’ve also been participating in a Modern Poetry class online. I’ve been reading Frost, Sandberg, and Masters most recently. I’m listening to a book about the transcendentalists in Concord during my commute. Next up is Spoon River Anthology or Big Magic, depending on when I finish the transcendentalist book and when Big Magic becomes available from the library.
All of this shapes into an idea for a counter narrative. Can I write a post, more or less daily, often as poetry, but not necessarily always, that celebrates spirituality and creativity while giving voice to people and things too often overlooked? Can I find others who are willing to write along with me? Can we listen to one another and by listening and writing shift the narratives?
Four years ago, I ran for State Representative. My campaign was a long shot, and while I ran a vigorous campaign, it was relatively low key. Nonetheless, it was hard work. A few days before the election, Super Storm Sandy hit. My mother died in a car accident during that storm and I tried to deal with my grief as I finished my campaign. Many friends supported me during this time. I worked the crowds at events around the district and thanked everyone for their support.
Two years later, I ran again. I ran a more vigorous campaign. At the big Sunday campaign brunch before election day, we found that a couple candidates had just had close family members die. It triggered memories of two years earlier, and when it was my turn to speak, I set aside my prepared words and spoke about why we vote.
I started off by offering condolences to those whose family members had died. I said that one of the ways we show that we care for the person who died and their family and friends who remain, is by going to wakes, to funerals, by showing up and showing our support. I said that elections are like that. It is how we show that we care for our community, our state, and our country. My passionate call to get out and vote was well received.
All of this comes to mind this morning, as we prepare for the Presidential primary here in Connecticut. All of this came flashing back, crashing back, as I read the news this morning. Aspiring campaign volunteer killed ‘execution style’ moments after meeting Pa. candidate “Alex Cherry chatted with Chris Rabb, a Democratic candidate for a seat in the Pennsylvania State House, on Sunday…”
Chris? I met him in politics years ago, and we remain friends on Facebook. Brilliant. Compassionate. The sort of leader we need more people like. I quickly went to his Facebook page, where he wrote, “I am physically okay.
Thank you for your concern and expressions of support for me and my campaign workers who experienced this horrific event.”
This is why we vote. To show that we care. Chris cares enough about his community to take on the grueling task of running for office. He is working to address causes of violence in our communities.
As candidates, we work very hard to spread the word about how we can all work together to make our communities better places, safer places. Please, don’t say your vote doesn’t matter. It does. It matters a lot more than you imagine. It matters to me. It matters to Chris. It matters to friends and supporters.
Please, get out and vote! Get your friends to get out and vote. It is how we show we care.
A lot of my friends are supporting Hillary Clinton for President. A lot of my friends are supporting Bernie Sanders for President. Many have been presenting good reasons to support their candidate. I like both candidates and would be glad to vote for both of them.
Some of my friends have been pointing out flaws with the person they are not supporting. I see plenty of flaws with both candidates. There is only one candidate I’ve ever voted for whose political beliefs seemed to perfectly align with my own, and some might even question that. I am, of course, talking about when I voted for myself when I’ve run for various offices.
I believe that Hillary is likely to win tomorrow, and my vote and my blog post are unlikely to change that. Even if she doesn’t win Connecticut tomorrow, I expect she’ll go on to receive the nomination.
So, by voting for Bernie in the primary, and Hillary in the general, I will end up getting to vote for both of them.
Another aspect of the election is that as a progressive, I would like to see an idealist elected. I believe Bernie is close to my views both as a progressive and as an idealist. As an idealist, I will vote for Bernie in the primary. Some have suggested that Clinton would be more effective as President. She knows how to play the game, get things done. She’s the practical choice. I’m not sure that the first woman president will have much better luck in dealing with obstructionists than the first black president has, so this argument doesn’t carry as much weight with me as it might with others. However, I will admit that Hillary is probably the stronger practical choice. I expect to make a practical choice in the general election.
So, how do we get the most progressive candidate elected president? We vote for the idealistic progressive candidate in the primary so that when the practical choice runs in November and hopefully becomes president in January, she will know that she needs to answer to both the left and the right.
Yes, I’m asking you, the people I know online, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other places. How does racism impact your life? Share your thoughts in response to the blog post, in comments on Facebook, in retweets etc. Listen to what others are saying. Feel free to ask clarifying questions.
Please try to refrain from attacking other people or their opinions. Let’s keep the discussion as open as possible, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel. If you are feeling really bold, ask a question like this, in your own way, to your friends, whether you do it face to face, one on one, or online to a large group.
Later, I’ll provide some context for this question, but I don’t what my context to shape your response.
How does racism impact your life?